Editorial: Act 46: Vote ‘yes’ to unify

As Town Meeting nears, one issue tops all others in Addison County — the unification of the three school districts (ACSU, ANwSU, and ANeSU.) At issue is whether school governance continues to be ruled by separate school boards for each elementary, union high and supervisory union (meaning 9 separate boards for ACSU, for example) or a single unified board for each district.
The pros and cons have been discussed before in this space, as well as through numerous letters to the editor and guest commentaries. (See several more letters in today’s issue.)
But there is an additional reason to adopt unification in this first go-around that is not as well known: the consequence of a member town voting down unification. Consider the seven towns (Bridport, Cornwall, Middlebury, Ripton, Salisbury, Shoreham and Weybridge) within the Addison Central Supervisory Union as an example. Say six of the towns vote for the unification, but one town votes against. The one town that rejects the change temporarily scuttles the unification for all the others. That town and the district can revote the issue before July 1, 2016, and if it passes on the second try, the unification proceeds — but all seven towns in the district lose the 10-cent property tax discount in that first year and will settle for a lesser discount. Plus, the small school grants that many find so crucial to balancing their budgets are lost for that year.
Moreover, if the town or towns that reject unification fail in the second effort, the towns in favor of the measure can choose to form a new consolidated district without the town(s) that rejected it. It is possible, then, that a town currently within the ASCU (say Ripton, or Addison in the ANwSU) could be left out of the district and be at the whim of where the state board of education would place them a few years down the road. That town would also operate without the small school grant.
That’s a big whack on the head for towns that choose not to unify, and it is partially why current school board members in each of the county’s school districts are almost unanimously for unification. Simply said: unification under Act 46 in this first year is in the best interest financially for all schools, but particularly for the smallest schools. Many supporters of the unification move also believe the move will help improve academic performance, as well as improve the cost effectiveness of Vermont’s education system, but it is the ultra-sweetened carrot and menacing stick that are driving the process on most fronts. We agree that’s unfortunate, but gentler measures have tried and failed in years past.
Our elected school board members in every county district overwhelmingly support unification of governance. They see the inefficiencies of the current structure first-hand, and have faith in school administrators and teachers to take a new approach and create improved student outcomes.
Unification is a significant change and it comes with unknown risk, but what we know is the current system is an administrative nightmare that will remain inefficient until it is overhauled. We have compelling incentives to act today, let’s not miss the opportunity.
Angelo S. Lynn

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